No Signs of Slowing in the Global Menswear Market

For over five years now, the growth of the men’s fashion market has outpaced that of womenswear. What are the key factors driving this growth and how are brands tapping the opportunity? BoF reports.

Inside Dunhill's Bourdon House in London | Source: Courtesy

LONDON, United Kingdom — In 1994, journalist Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’ to describe contemporary, city-dwelling men who placed increased emphasis on personal grooming and fashion. At the time, the often-lampooned stereotype of the well-moisturised modern dandy stood in direct contrast to traditional notions of masculinity. Two decades on, the archetype has become commonplace. It is not only socially acceptable but desirable for men to care about (and spend money on) their personal appearance, driving a veritable boom in the men’s fashion market that shows no signs of abating. (In fact, Simpson has just coined a new term — the ‘spornosexual’ — to describe today’s even more extreme, body, image and styled-obsessed version of the metrosexual).

“I think the world’s attitudes towards masculinity have really progressed. The idea of the proper ‘man’ has gotten looser, less defined, less restricted,” said Jeremy Lewis, editor of the independent fashion zine Garmento. “The classic male archetype has been pretty misogynistic, sexist and slightly fascist and I think that’s broken down quite a bit over the last 20 years. It makes more sense in a world that is becoming less patriarchal that the male identity would shift to allow for something like fashion or style, once considered feminine and therefore unacceptable, to be adopted.”

In the UK, men have become so fashion-conscious that they are now outspending women on items like shoes. “We have a generation of young men who are more sophisticated than their predecessors and who have no qualms about buying contemporary, directional fashion,” said Dylan Jones, the editor-in-chief of British GQ.

“Historically, fashion has been the domain of womenswear. Menswear has always abided by some trends but they were slow moving, very conservative changes and had very little to do with the cycle that we think of when we consider runway shows and fashion magazines,” added Lewis. “But at some point, fashion culture started to move over into menswear in a big way.”

Indeed, with the rise of popular television series featuring protagonists like the slick 1960s advertising gurus of Mad Men and a proliferation of modern day musicians, actors and athletes paying increasing attention to fashion and collaborating with some of the world’s biggest fashion brands, men’s style has officially gone mainstream.

The rise of the Internet has also played a critical role. “Growing up, my idea of style was limited to what I saw in GQ or Esquire, but today anyone can go on the Internet and see how people dress all over the world, see what brands they are wearing, and, of course, buy them,” said Lewis.

The rise of e-commerce has reduced friction for male shoppers, who can be averse to time-consuming shopping trips. Consumer research firm Mintel reports that one-third of men shop online for clothes, which goes some way towards explaining the rise of menswear-focused Internet start-ups, offering everything from suiting and shirting to trousers and bespoke shoes.

But the rapid economic growth of emerging markets like China, where men have traditionally held the purse strings, has been perhaps the most powerful driver of growth in men’s fashion spending, say market analysts. “Emerging markets consumers and Chinese consumers are the primary [growth] factors, followed by more attention by brands in terms of product and offer,” said luxury analyst Luca Solca of Exane BNP Paribas.

“Over 90 percent of the group’s sales are from exports, with China [being] the largest market followed by Europe and the Americas,” said Gildo Zegna, chief executive officer of Ermenegildo Zegna, by far the largest luxury menswear brand in the world with over 500 monobrand stores and reported revenue of €1.26 billion ($1.72 billion) in 2012. “The most significant increases in sales — and therefore in growth potential — have been recorded in Hong Kong, Macao, the Middle East and in the most popular parts of Europe and America thanks to the strong increase in tourism from China, Russia and Brazil.”

According to a 2013 luxury goods study by consulting firm Bain & Company, since the depths of the economic downturn in 2009, growth in the market for men’s ready-to-wear has outpaced that of womenswear, increasing between 9 and 13 percent year-on-year. Last year, growth dipped by 2 percent due to decelerating demand in China. But along with this shift, established markets have seen a consistent increase in menswear sales. A recent HSBC study noted the rise of the ‘Yummies’ (young urban males), high earners who are poised to drive luxury fashion sales further, as they tend to marry and raise families later in life. Last month, NPD Group reported that, in the US, men’s apparel sales grew 5 percent in 2013 to over $60 billion, outperforming womenswear.

On the back of growing market demand, fashion brands have moved to expand their menswear offerings, introducing broader product ranges and, in some cases, dedicated menswear stores. (Hermès, Lanvin, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada are amongst the brands who, in recent years, have launched men’s-only flagships).

In its quarterly earnings call in April, Prada, once a predominantly women’s-focused business, announced that over the next three to five years, it hopes to nearly double its menswear sales to 1.5 billion euros (about $2 billion) and would add 50 more dedicated men’s shops to its existing 30. In the face of weak demand in China, the company is counting on this expansion to help return the Italian label to double-digit growth by 2016, said representatives.

Notably, rival luxury goods conglomerates Kering and LVMH are also making significant investments in their respective luxury menswear brands, Brioni (purchased in 2011 by Kering, then called PPR) and Berluti. LVMH has invested about $135 million to transform the bespoke cobbler Berluti into a full-fledged men’s luxury brand, now under the direction of Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault.

And now, Richemont, which had previously been rumoured to be selling some of its long-ailing fashion brands, is now planning to double down on its fashion portfolio, making a big push into menswear, in particular, with a significant investment in Dunhill.

“Men are in general becoming more interested in investing in themselves whether it is a new piece of technology, an item of clothing or a grooming product,” said Fabrizio Cardinali, Dunhill’s new chief executive. “Up until now Dunhill has been the sleeping giant. The brand has huge potential — we have heritage, expertise, know-how. And we now have John Ray, the ideal creative director for the brand, renewed focus and new product categories.”

The move seems a direct answer to the expansion of Berluti and Brioni from the Switzerland-based luxury group, which has recently accumulated a significant sum of available cash, which grew to more than €4.6 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31 2014, up €1.7 billion from the year before. Plans include a major retail rollout, according to Cardinali, with a new store concept.

In the US, while much of Coach’s recent focus has been on its leather goods and womenswear, the company’s menswear business has steadily climbed to reach revenues of $700 million this year, up from $100 million in 2010, and is expected to hit $1 billion in turnover in the coming three to four years. Michael Kors, another predominantly womenswear brand in the “accessible luxury” space, has set a similar target. In an earnings call in February, chief executive John D. Idol said the company would make “a significant push” into menswear in the next two years. Market sources also suggest that Tory Burch, another major accessible luxury player, is planning a move into menswear.

As to whether these brands, and others, will prove successful in tapping the growing menswear opportunity, Dylan Jones said: “If the product is spurious, it will not work, because although men have become used to expanding their wardrobes, they are not stupid,” adding, “focus on the integrity and the usefulness of the goods.”

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